Our Hiking Time: 4h 45m
Total Ascent: 1400ft
Highest Point: 2800ft
Total Distance: 7.0 miles
Location: N 48° 6.2640, W 121° 37.3320
Required Permit: None
Difficulty: Hard (Overgrown after 2.0 miles)
A few weeks ago we headed back out the Mountain Loop Highway to the Marten Creek Trail #713, an all-but-forgotten mining road that once connected Silverton with Darrington over Granite Pass. We expected to find a trail leading out to an old mine, but instead we were confronted with a bit more route-finding and bushwhacking than we anticipated.
Monte Cristo, mining along Marten Creek boomed around the turn of the last century. At its height, dozens of claims were being worked to pull gold and copper out of the creek basin. In 1897, an Everett & Monte Cristo Railway locomotive sparked a major forest fire that consumed most of the trees on Long Mountain. Perhaps because the fire cleared so much land, the Forest Service chose Marten Creek as a location for one of the first experimental forests. Beginning in 1912, Douglas fir seedlings from different locations and elevations throughout Washington and Oregon where raised in nurseries. In 1915 and 1916, the young trees were transferred to the mountainside above Marten Creek, along with signs indicating where they were from and what elevation they came from, many of which are still present. The experiment was aimed at identifying and predicting different diseases that affect Douglas firs. The investigation has continued to this day, making Marten Creek the oldest experimental forest in the Northwest.
Mining continued into the 1940s, when a rough road was blazed out to some of the more productive mines. Today’s trail follows the remnants of this road. However, by the 1980s the mining dropped off. In 1984 Congress designated the Boulder River Wilderness, protecting the only remaining virgin forest in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Today the Wilderness covers nearly 50,000 acres and is dominated by Three Fingers Mountain that rises from the center of the protected area. Despite its size, there are only about 25 miles of trail through the Wilderness, leaving the vast majority of the area wild and untouched.
The trail begins directly off the Mountain Loop Highway along Marten Creek. The first mile or so follows the now abandoned roadbed up through a maturing forest Douglas fir, cedar and hemlock. The roadbed is occasionally rocky, but is wide and generally free of blowdowns. Almost immediately the route crosses into the Boulder River Wilderness and begins switchbacking up the mountainside, carrying you past the experimental forest before swinging away from the highway and pushing deeper into the creek basin. The road wastes little time climbing steeply 1000ft up through dense forest before leveling off and becoming a true trail. From here the trail crosses through a number of talus fields that offer views of the surrounding peaks, including Anaconda Peak, Three Fingers, Bald Mountain and Long Mountain.
Unfortunately, because of current trail conditions, most hikers will not be able to catch a glimpse of Three Fingers, even on a good day. At about the two mile mark the trail becomes increasingly difficult to navigate; blowdowns and washouts become more frequent, and the trail occasionally disappears. We highly recommend you bring along a GPS and be comfortable with some bushwhacking and route-finding if you are planning on continuing past this point. If not, the first open views of Anaconda Peak and the Marten Creek Valley is probably a good place to settle in for a snack before calling it a day. However, if you want a few more views and a look at an abandoned mine, push on another half-mile to Marten Creek, which can be difficult to cross when the water is running high. Once across, follow the faint indication of the roadbed for a little less than a mile to the mine. Again, reaching the mine is not easy, and you should not attempt it without a map or GPS.
If you’re looking for a training hike or a quiet snowshoe without a lot of company, the Marten Creek trail is an excellent choice. Although there is not much in the way of a destination, the first two miles of this trail offer forested trails, a roaring creek, some views and more than a little history. Much beyond this point most folks are unlikely to enjoy the hike, at least until the trail gets some serious trail maintenance. Because of this, we recommend you save this one for snowshoe season, as it makes a great alternative to the more popular routes along the Mountain Loop Highway.
To get there, take I-5 North to Exit 194. Follow Highway 2 for about two miles. Stay in the left lane and merge onto Lake Stevens Highway 204. Follow for two miles to Highway 9. Take the left onto Highway 9 toward Lake Stevens. In just under two miles reach Highway 92 to Granite Falls. Take a right and follow for about nine miles to the Mountain Loop Highway. Follow the MLH for about 20 miles to the bridge over Marten Creek, just past the Marten Creek Campground. The signed trailhead is on the east side of the creek. There is no parking lot, find parking along the shoulder. -Nathan
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